As we inch closer to that glorious opening night of football on September 7th, it’s about that time we unveil our bold predictions. Despite, in all likelihood, going 0-10 in my Pitcher List bold predictions for the season, I’m looking forward to redeeming myself here and getting a few of my football hunches correct. These will range anywhere from the fantasy side of things to the complete NFL realm but I think they all qualify as being bold.
1. Danny Amendola will set career highs in receptions, yards and TD’s, becoming a WR2 in fantasy (PPR).
I’ll start it out with 2 of my favorite predictions right now based on my local team. This one was pretty easy to predict after the devastating injury to Julian Edelman this past weekend. Now slotted in as the clear-cut slot receiver on a team where the slot guy typically out-produces every other WR, he should be in line to shatter his old career highs (85 catches, 689 yards, 4 TD’s). Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks seem likely to stay on the outside of the formation and Malcolm Mitchell still has yet to do anything this summer while battling a knee injury (not the first time), so if Amendola can stay healthy and play 75% or more of snaps a game, he can be a PPR maven for fantasy owners. He also clearly has the trust of Tom Brady and actually tends to be his go to target when the games on the line (11 targets in Super Bowl LI).
2. Dion Lewis leads all New England RB’s in all-purpose yards, fantasy points.
It’s crazy that so many people think Lewis is in danger of losing his roster spot right now. Clearly the teams most dynamic talent at the position, people continue to sleep on Dion (4th Patriots RB off the board based on ADP), despite being just two years removed from having high-end RB2 value prior to tearing his ACL. He didn’t have the same role last season as the team just wanted to ease him back in to action after he returned. Now with no feature lead back after allowing Legarrette Blount to walk, Lewis could be in a prime position to take over that early down back role. He may be small in stature, but he is also a surprisingly effective runner between the tackles, and is versatile enough to be moved all around the formation, which we know the Patriots value immensely. With Gilislee and Burkhead battling some injuries and a being a bit behind right now, Lewis should open the year as a 15-20 touch RB on an offense that should score points in bunches. That makes him a solid RB2/Flex play out of the gate.
3. Ben Roethlisberger finishes the season as a top 5 QB.
Throw away the home/road splits, the durability concerns and his mental mindset (him thinking about retirement, etc.) because none of that should hurt his ability to move the ball down the field this season. He has shown an ability to put up monster performances in the past, and he now has arguably the best WR group (Bell included) in his career. The schedule is also favorable for him for the most part, and the road games he faces this year are against some of the leagues more questionable secondaries. He should be motivated this season for one reason or another and I don’t see why he can’t replicate 2014 again. He’s the QB I am targeting the most in drafts this season.
4. Derrick Henry top’s 1000 yards rushing and 10 TD’s.
Perhaps the most important handcuff in fantasy football this season, I think it’s possible Henry will have standalone value this year whether or not Demarco Murray loses a step or ends up injured. The Titans offense should be able to move the ball pretty effectively, on the ground as well as thru the air. Their dominant O-Line should allow either RB to be as effective as they can be, and it only makes sense for the coaching staff to increase Henry’s workload while decreasing the aging Murrays. If he see’s 15 touches a game, and averages 4.5 yards per, that equals out to 1080 yards over 16 games. Certainly reasonable.
5. The Kevin White breakout has arrived. He finishes the season as a top 20 WR in standard leagues.
I had originally planned on talking about Davante Parker finishing as a top 15 WR but that seems to be all the rave now, so I’ll shift my bold prediction to another young talented high draft pick in Kevin White. White is undoubtedly a terrific athlete, we all know that. Whether or not he is a terrific NFL wide receiver is still very much up in the air. He does have a few things going in his favor though. He was peppered with targets late last season, Cameron Meredith’s injury bumps him up to the #1 outside WR role and I believe Mike Glennon can actually move the ball downfield. 72 catches, 1050 yards and 8 TD’s would be my guess at his final stat line. Not bad for someone you can get in the last few rounds of drafts.
6. Joe Mixon will still be the most valuable rookie RB this season.
I keep hearing about how Marvin Lewis always sticks with his veteran RB, which in this case would mean Jeremy Hill. Hill cannot play at a high level anymore and is strictly a goal line/short yardage back at best. Mixon is without question the most talented RB the Bengals have rostered since Corey Dillon. A potential true difference maker, Lewis, who is probably on the hot seat, would be wise to change his standards when it comes to rookie RB’s and play Mixon early and often. And if you have watched this kid on the field, you know the hype is real.
7. Josh Gordon returns and is a top 15 WR for the last 8 weeks of the season.
There is now more smoke to the rumors that Josh Gordon will be reinstated this season. If he indeed is, there is a still a huge opportunity for him to produce in Cleveland, given their current state of affairs at the WR position. If Deshone Kizer can at least be competent and make some big plays this season, he would still be the best QB Gordon has ever played with. Rumor has it he is in the best shape of his life right now and eager to get back on the field. If so, he could be a league winner for savvy owners who are ahead of the curve and stash Gordon in September/October.
8. A Tight End playing their home games in the state of Florida will finish as a TE1.
I’ll get this out of the way first, it probably will not be Marcedes Lewis. I do think both Julius Thomas and Cameron Brate provide great value for basically nothing right now and can definitely see one, if not both, finish as a top 12 tight end. One of Jay Cutlers biggest beneficiaries in Chicago was always Martellus Bennett, and there is probably still something left in the tank for Thomas, who still hasn’t turned 30 yet. Unlike what his ADP suggests, I don’t see Brate regressing all that much, if at all. I’d be surprised if rookie OJ Howard catches more than 20 passes this season and still think Brate will be the teams third pass catching option. He is a solid move TE and the third option in the passing game, who Jameis Winston also loves to lock on to in the red zone.
9. The Los Angeles Chargers win the vastly overrated AFC West.
The AFC West is the unanimous choice right now for the best division in football it seems with a lot of people predicting that three teams make the playoffs within it. The one team they leave out, is always the Chargers. The other 3 teams all have major flaws, the Raiders pass defense and running game are question marks, while the Chiefs and Broncos will probably struggle to move the ball on offense. The Chargers however have perhaps the most talented group of skill position players of the group. Think about it, the Chargers have arguably the best QB in the division, the best RB in the division, a receiving corps, pass rush and secondary as good as, if not better than the rest of the division. They do need work along the offensive line, but it should still automatically be an upgrade over last seasons unit. If they can finally stay relatively healthy for 16 games, I think the Chargers will surprise and be a legitimate contender come January.
10. The 1st and 2nd overall picks from the 2015 NFL draft lead their teams to playoff births this year…as will the 1st and 2nd overall picks from the 2016 NFL draft.
The first half off this statement isn’t relatively bold, as the Titans and Buccaneers are trendy sleeper picks to make the playoffs this season. I have even seen some people out there consider the Eagles as a reasonable playoff team, and I am very much a Carson Wentz believer. So I guess the only pick I really need to defend would be the Rams and Jared Goff. It’s hard to me to defend Goff, as I don’t see much there, but what he does have now can potentially mask his deficiencies. He has Sean McVay, an actual intelligent, creative offensive guru, that can help dig the offense out of the gutter finally. He should at least be able to put Goff in a position for him to succeed to the best of his abilities, which could be enough to allow Todd Gurley to be the dynamic RB he is. The defense is already solid, and if they can come to a solution regarding Aaron Donald’s holdout, the defense can be elite throughout the season. The Rams should be a 7-9 team no more.